It can be a scary time for parents who have children now. The Internet has a lot of pitfalls and ways that children might become prey to malicious forces online. Children are now very Internet “savvy” as even in kindergarten, computer usage and all other mobile device usages are either taught or learned through peers. A five-year-old today can have the skillset of an eighteen-year-old in past decades. Getting onto the Internet and onto unsavory websites is common, especially in the pre-teen and teenage years. Commonsense however, does not always rule the minds of pre-teens and teenagers and the predatory forces out there know this and use it to their advantage and the child’s disadvantage. Social media is a great way for predators and other sociopaths to lure unsuspecting children into a web of lies and take advantage of them. This occurs especially with lonely pre-teens and teenagers who may not have many friends or outside activities. Cyberbullying is also something that occurs quite frequently online, and a group of other pre-teens or teenagers might pick on someone who joins an online group in such a fashion that it causes emotional and psychological problems for the target of the bullying.
Tens of thousands of children are being exploited sexually online each year.
According to the United States Department of State, this type of exploitation occurs on all mobile devices as new apps are developed continuously which allow this exploitation. Coercion of children into providing sexual pictures or performing sexual acts for a camera is all too common and increasing each year. These pictures and videos are then sold online for profit. In a “worst case” scenario, child traffickers will entice children, pre-teens, and teenagers into meeting them somewhere and the child then is trafficked out of country and into a prostitution ring or other nefarious practices. Males are just as much in danger as females in all types of sexual exploitation and child trafficking so parents of children of all ages and gender must be aware of these horrendous types of predators. Children are trafficked for prostitution, drug smuggling, cheap labor (slavery), and even for marriage. There are signs that every parent should be aware of which would indicate that a child is becoming a victim of online sexual exploitation or bullying. If a child becomes withdrawn emotionally, seems anxious and unwilling to spend time with the family or in activities, and is spending too much time online alone in their room, parents would do well to check the child’s mobile devices for any evidence of either sexual exploitation or cyberbullying. An aversion to going to school or a drop in grades also indicates trouble online many times.
Parents can and should always monitor the usage of mobile devices of each child.
Pre-teens and teenagers under eighteen years of age are still considered children. While many will feel that a parent may be invading their privacy (they are always concerned about this), it is a parental duty to monitor online behaviors of their children. This should occur daily if possible, as predators and cyberbullies are quite determined and move quickly onto their victims causing harm immediately. Some tips for monitoring internet behavior of children include:
- Limiting the time spent by any child, pre-teen, or teenager online. Studies also prove that too much time spent online can lead to depression and other adverse behaviors in youngsters. Compulsive behaviors develop easily with too much online access or even cell phone usage.
- Invest in some type of software that blocks access to certain sites by children. There are dozens of these and keeping a child off unwanted sites is imperative.
- Take a child, pre-teens, or teenagers mobile and laptops away from them at a certain time each day. This will not be popular, but it is imperative. Give them back at a certain time only.
- Glean through the messages on any youngster’s phone and of course the pictures. See who they are messaging and conversing with and if they are providing provocative pictures or images of any type to either their friends or complete strangers.
- Provide activities that are not online related such as sports and family nights. These will keep youngsters engaged in activities outside the online world.
- Talk to each child about the dangers of the online world from a young age. Communication and knowledge will assist a youngster in knowing who and what to avoid online and honestly, it is never too early to start imparting this knowledge. Trust will also be built with the parent when this is done.
- Encourage each child in a family to come forward with any concerns they might have about someone online. Do not dismiss their concerns or punish the child. If a child feels comfortable with a parent, they will be more open about their online behaviors.
- As a parent, try to ensure that you know the names, addresses and all information about the friends that a child is hanging out with. Too often friends can lead a child into unwanted behaviors online. Nuwber is a search site with a list of hundreds of thousands of USA citizens and is a help to parents to find out whom their children are communicating with. Information can be found in minutes on Nuwber on any number of names.
Even with all the tips above, sometimes horrible occurrences take place online.
If a parent suspects sexual exploitation of their child, they can and should report the suspected culprit to the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation). There is a special section on the FBI website and a form to submit complaints regarding suspected suspicious behavior online, especially sexual exploitation, cyberbullying, and child trafficking. The United States government takes these issues seriously and so should every parent. The local police can be contacted too and if bullying is occurring within the school system, the administration in a school needs to know. Even if your own child is not affected in the end you can ensure someone else’s child does not become a victim by making reports whenever needed. All parents everywhere should protect their own children and all other children if they can. Stopping online crimes against children is everyone’s responsibility.